by Shayne Thomas
12 Dec 2019
4 Tips for Keeping Remote Workers Engaged
How to make employee happiness a priority when employing a remote workforce
The days of going to the office every day are officially over!
Alright, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but wouldn't we love that to be true? Fortunately, it’s not as much of a pipe dream as it once was, say, 20 years ago.
The arrival of millennials in the workplace—along with their digital native habits—the increase of roaming “coffee shop” entrepreneurs, the ever-growing footprint of coworking spaces, and, alas, the perennial desire (read: dream) to strike more of a work-life balance has caused many of us—and our employers—to create a more flexible working environment.
The truth is, we’ve come to the point where we’ve had to fundamentally rethink the very nature of how we work, especially in the face of more immersive technologies that make it easier to be connected and accessible anywhere and at anytime. In other words, technology has shattered, if only symbolically, those cubicle walls, ushering in the era of the “remote workforce.”
What companies couldn’t have possibly fathomed just a few short years ago has now become a part of the workplace status quo. A recent study, surveying 18,000 employees across 96 companies globally, found that 70% of employees work remotely once per week, with as many as 53% of employees spending at least half of a week away from the office.
Upwork’s 2018 Future Workforce Report also opened up everyone’s eyes to the fact that 63% of U.S. employers now offer some sort of flexible working options. There are even some companies out there today that are 100% remote, added proof that this trend is here to stay.
The truth is, today’s employees not only want but also demand flexibility in their day-to-day work life. They don’t want to be chained to a desk or forced to deal with a long, tedious commute every day if the means are available to do their work—and do it effectively—from the comforts of their own home or favorite coffee shop.
While no one is going to argue against the benefits of flexibility, allowing employees to work remotely, even if only part of the time, doesn’t necessarily equate to employee happiness, a sense of connectedness, or overall job satisfaction. In many ways, managing a remote workforce can sometimes feel like an even bigger challenge for employers. That’s why it’s up to you—as businesses and managers—to ensure that your remote workers don’t feel as though they’re living (and working) on a solitary island.
Here are four essential tips for keeping your remote workers engaged at all times:
- Invest in the right technologies
As mentioned above, modern technology has made it incredibly easy to do a wide array of jobs without ever having to set foot in an office. Even more reason why you should make smart investments in technology if you plan to hire and grow your remote workforce. Communications tools like Slack and Workplace are a great way to keep teams connected seamlessly and in real-time. It also has the added perk of unclogging inboxes—as a quick chat-based conversation can clear up endless back-and-forth emails. Additionally, conferencing calling tools, like WebEx, make it easy to hold virtual meetings and, as long as you’re not working in your PJ’s, actually see your team face-to-face (ahem, camera-to-camera). Little things like this can go a long way towards creative a more collaborative remote working environment. The list of tools and technologies to support this is practically endless. Rule of thumb: be sure to source the best solutions for your specific business to ensure—and empower—your remote workers to do their jobs well, stay connected, and succeed.
- Keep the conversation going
One of the biggest challenges that remote workers often face is isolation. (Unfortunately, chit chatting with your local barista every day doesn’t really count as a replacement for workplace conversations!) Because remote workers don’t go into an office every day, nor do they have the same kind of opportunities to build in-person relationships with their coworkers, it’s very easy for them to begin feeling like an afterthought. One way to avoid this to make schedule time weekly to keep the lines of communication flowing. But don’t just use this time to talk about work; make a point to get to know your remote workers on a more personal level, dedicating some time to talk about the weekend plans, family, interests and activities, etc. Not every employee is going to want to be an “open book” and will do whatever they can to steer the conversation back to work, but, as a manager of a remote employee, it’s important that you take the time to show you truly care about all aspects of your employee’s well-being and happiness, beyond just day-to-day work.
As a personal anecdote, when I worked at a large tech company about 10 years ago, my boss was a remote employee who worked from her home on the other side of the country. We talked multiple times every day—about practically everything—so much that I commonly referred to her as my “work mom.” But the joy about this relationship was that I knew she had my back at all times and, even though I was the one in the office daily, I never once felt out of touch with the person who was shepherding my professional growth and development. This unique combination of connection and caring really does make all the difference. That’s why she is still, to this day, the best boss I’ve ever had, who also, by osmosis, taught me how to eventually become a great remote worker, too!
- Bring the entire team together
Even though you may have remote workers, it doesn’t mean they have to be remote in perpetuity. If they live within a reasonable distance from the office, invite them to come in once per week to have some face-time with the team. If they’re a bit further away, try to organize a full team get together a few times a year, so that everyone can spend time together—whether working on projects, enjoying a team lunch, or doing some kind of team-building activities outside of business hours. Not only will it make your remote workers feel more connected to day-to-day office life, but it will also foster a more positive and collaborative team dynamic.
- Offer frequent feedback
We’ve said this many times before, but we’ll say it again here: feedback is a true gift. As a manager, it’s absolutely critical that you invest in continuous performance management for all of your employees, whether they sit with you in the office or work remotely. Using tools like Cornerstone’s solutions can help your entire team stay accountable to ongoing check-ins. They can also provide you with the necessary resources to maintain and improve your team’s overall engagement, satisfaction, and happiness. Another great perk to keeping the feedback loop open: it’s a great way to combat burnout among remote employees. “People using flex or remote policies often do feel more grateful to their employers. That feeling of indebtedness can lead some remote employees to keep their foot on the gas until they run out of fuel.” This tendency to veer towards burnout might just be case of overachiever syndrome or, at worst, can be provoked by a constant need to prove one’s worth and value. By constantly providing constructive feedback to remote employees, you can help alleviate the feelings of isolation that can sometimes cause them to operate in overcompensation overdrive.
The remote workforce trend isn’t going away anytime soon. The tips above, while incredibly helpful and relevant to anyone who manages a team of remote workers, are best team management practices across the board. It really all comes down to communication and collaboration. Whether it’s amplified by technology or takes place casually around the water cooler doesn’t really matter. Keeping a strong team dynamic, one that boosts employee satisfaction and happiness, is about showing you care and taking proactive steps to support your team’s growth and development. A lot of that boils down to check-ins and feedback.
Obviously, we can’t manage your team of remote workers for you—or even organize your next team-building activity—but we can help you master the ins and outs of continuous performance management. Learn more here.